Apr 8, 2015; Columbus, OH, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner (51) against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena. The Jackets won 5-0. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Babcock made it a point in his press conference to say that he believes Gardiner is a good player, but needs to be built up – meaning he needs to feel confident in his ability. When Randy Carlyle took over as head coach, there was a noticeable decline in Gardiner’s play, especially in his own end.
That was a big surprise, given the fact Carlyle was a Norris Trophy winner and at times spent extra time with Gardiner. He is very skilled with the puck, and when he was on the powerplay he found ways to produce offensively.
The real challenge will be to improve his positioning in the defensive zone and his play without the puck. That is where Babcock and assistant coach D.J. Smith come into play.
When it comes to rookies like Valiev, Mitch Marner, Connor Brown, Casey Bailey, Zach Hyman, Josh Leivo, and Brendan Leipsic, it will be really tough to make the roster this season. This is especially true, when you hear the Leafs want to make sure their prospects are over-prepared for the NHL level.
That does not mean there will not be a chance for them to get a couple of games during the year as a call up. However, Babcock will be strict with that, because he was the same way in Detroit.
While many are expecting the Leafs to be near the bottom of the standings, it is not a stretch to think this team could be better than what others are projecting for them. While that might not mean the playoffs, it does not mean they will be the worst team in the league.